Regular readers of How to Save the World know that I have been struggling for a couple of years with my novel The Only Life We Know. The novel takes place at the dawn of the 23rd century, a hundred years after a combination of events have conspired to cause our civilization to crash. The human population has reached a stasis level of a few hundred million people after a precipitous collapse. Attempts by the survivors to immediately recreate civilization culture failed for a whole series of reasons revealed through the stories in the novel.
The successive generations, unfamiliar with what pre-crash civilization was about (other from what they can glean from books and digital recordings), are therefore indifferent to it, and therefore go about creating a set of completely new cultures. These new cultures are based on the physical place of the community (so the desert culture in the book is very different from the oceanside culture, and each is appropriate to its place), and based on studying the cultures of wild animal communities native to those places. The young people use animal cultures as their model because they are only models they can see that actually work. They rebel against and ultimately ignore the pleas of the ‘older generation’ of humans, who remember what civilization was, and want the young people to learn from civilization’s lessons and rebuild it. The only thing that the young people can see to learn from in their study of civilization is that it failed, horribly.
One of the theses of the novel is that while there is much we can learn from information media, we can’t really know what it’s like to live in another culture unless we experience it physically. While the immediate survivors of civilization’s collapse struggle to recreate the only life they know, the generations that follow have no tie to, or real appreciation of, such a ‘civilization’ culture, because they have no first-hand experience of it. Some technologies have survived, including books, and hand-crank operated ‘electronic’ information tools, but with the end of oil, the collapse of the energy grid, and the subsequent collapse of social, economic, business, educational and political infrastructure, most of these tools are abandoned, not because they can’t be made to work, but because they no longer ‘make sense’ in the context of a new world with no apparent use or need for them.
So these new generations of humans, using nature as their model, and salvaging whatever tools and information they find intuitively useful from the era of civilization, go about crafting, from the bottom up (there is no ‘top down’ any more), bold new human communities that work for them. Because these communities are far-flung, remote from other communities, and of necessity self-sufficient and tied to the ecology of their physical location, the cultures of these communities end up diverging wildly, and appear to the observer (and the reader) as different from each other as Incan culture was from Inuit culture. This divergence occurs despite the fact there is some cultural exchange and trade, and substantial information exchange between the cultures. A single ‘common’ language evolves, learned by everyone but secondary to each culture’s ‘native’ language, and a basic ‘natural community model’, illustrated above, also emerges, although it manifests itself in very different ways.
This natural community model reflects the fact that, to survive and be good citizens of our communities, we all need to acquire and practice certain indigenous capacities (listed on the right side of the chart) that minimize conflict, enable collaboration and demonstrate respect for others and for Gaia, of which we are (finally and again) an integral part. In addition to these capacities, we also, each individually, find that our strengths and our passions tend to be focused in one or more of the nine competency areas shown in the diamonds on the chart. Deciding how, and who to make a living with, is a matter of assessing how your strengths and passions in these areas dovetail with those of others, and how they collectively provide something of value to the community. Regular readers will recognize this as the ‘sweet spot’ at the intersection of your Gift, your Passion and your Purpose, that I’ve written about often recently, and will recognize the result of finding and working together with those whose collective Gifts and Passions meet a shared Purpose as the model for what I have called The Natural Enterprise.
Here’s a quick overview of the nine competency areas I’ve depicted above, and how they work together (I’ll have more to say about this in a future Natural Enterprise article):
The first seven competency areas flow, sort of, one to the next. Discoveries are interpreted to produce understanding, which provokes ideas, which are designed into models, which are produced as ‘goods’, which provide well-being, which is sustained by menders.
Young people in these communities are encouraged to try their hand at all of these things, to learn what their real strengths and passions are. They are also encouraged to be Nomads — to travel to and live among other communities in order to find the people they love and would love to make a living with, and to act as Connectors in that capacity.
This model is just an emergent shared framework of community roles, not a taxonomy of roles that, once chosen, defines your position in the community for life. It’s a personal navigation tool, not a pigeon-holing structure. It’s implicit in the way the communities depicted in the book operate, but is not explicit.
The novel is told in the ‘voice’ of a young Nomad recounting her experiences in twelve different communities (the book’s twelve chapters). But she changes her ‘voice’ to reflect the utterly different cultures of these communities as she becomes immersed in and part of each. So the novel is actually a collection of twelve short stories.
The novel aspires to do three things:
At this point I’m not expecting you to ‘buy’ the plot — I haven’t given you enough here to do that. What I’d like from you, dear reader, are two things:
People whose ideas I use will, of course, be acknowledged in the book.
Other Writers About CollapseAlbert Bates (US)
Andrew Nikiforuk (CA)
Carolyn Baker (US)*
Catherine Ingram (US)
Chris Hedges (US)
Dahr Jamail (US)
David Petraitis (US)
David Wallace-Wells (US)
Dean Spillane-Walker (US)*
Derrick Jensen (US)
Doing It Ourselves (AU)
Dougald & Paul (UK)*
Gail Tverberg (US)
Guy McPherson (US)
Jan Wyllie (UK)
Janaia & Robin (US)*
Jem Bendell (US)
Jonathan Franzen (US)
Kari McGregor (AU)
Keith Farnish (UK)
NTHE Love (UK)
Paul Chefurka (CA)
Paul Heft (US)*
Post Carbon Inst. (US)
Richard Heinberg (US)
Robert Jensen (US)
Roy Scranton (US)
Sam Mitchell (US)
Sam Rose (US)*
Tim Bennett (US)
Tim Garrett (US)
Umair Haque (US)
William Rees (CA)
Archive by Category
My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
My Other Sites
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.